The dongle wouldn’t fit. He tried flipping it over and rattling it around inside the slot, then flipped it back again and rattled some more. It wouldn’t go in, and the impotent stabbings were starting to make the port sore. He imagined it becoming rawer and redder with every attempt, and when he ran a fingertip over the flesh surrounding it, his reward was a lancing pain. He tossed the dongle to the floor in disgust and looked at his finger. A dark, wet membrane coated it. The fluid could have been blood or motor oil, but the room was too dim to tell.
“I told you we shouldn’t have bought Korean,” he said, grinding his teeth.
“Next time you get more than twenty percent up front, maybe we can afford something better.” The voice in his ear was smiling at him with a tone of ‘I told you so, you stupid hack’ that only made him bite down harder. Janine was an excellent handler, one of the best he’d had in his years as a data mule, but there were times when her vindictiveness was so sharp that he couldn’t stand it.
“Why do you have to be such a shrew, Jay?” he asked, and groped around on the carpet. It was a thick pile, a detail he hadn’t noticed when he’d cased the place. It was like petting an animal’s fur. He’d never seen a live animal, let alone touch one, but something primal in the remains of his organic brain told him that’s what it would’ve felt like.
“Because I’ve got a million better things to be doing with my cycles? Even with the multitasker I’ve got set up it’s still a huge pain in the ass babysitting you. I thought you said this was going to be an in-and-out job. You’ve been in that closet for almost half an hour.”
“Unforeseen hardware issues.”
“That’s also what you get for insisting on a posterior cervical port. Sure, they look cool in the movies, and your greasy hair makes them difficult to detect, but trying to slap a jack into one in a hurry can turn into a gigantic exercise in frustration, as I’m sure you’re aware by now.”
“And again, you pay for it in other ways.”
His searching fingers found the dongle and he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tried once more to glide the wafer into the opening in the back of his neck. This time it slid in with a click, and instantly a small data window opened at the edge of his peripheral vision. He cursed.
“The interface isn’t aligned properly. I can barely see it. It’s rendering on the far outside edge of my right eyeball.”
“Wonderful. Hold one sec.” The data window shivered, glitched out for a moment, then slid into a more comfortable position for reading. “How’s that?”
“Much better, thanks. Is it mirroring okay?”
“I can see what you can see, compadre. Looks like this is it. Might as well commit and get out of there.”
He focused on recalling the visual cue he had set to enable the read/write access on his internal drive. A daisy with eleven petals and a blood-red center materialized in his mind’s eye, and he felt the jolt as the data transferred. “Done,” he said, and pulled the dongle out. A sudden dizziness swept over him.
“That’s odd,” he heard, and then the darkness of the closet swallowed him as he lost consciousness.
2015.02.24 – 2023.09.20